Using oxygen to speed and enhance healing

Rick emailed me, “I’m sitting here with my leg propped up.” Last month, Rick, 68, climbed Mt. Baldy — California’s 4,000-foot-elevation peak — so his next sentence surprised me. “Broke my femur on a little walk with our dog, Mookie. She crossed in front of me, and BOOM! Now my most exciting moment is going for hyperbaric treatment.”

Really? Another friend with a slow-healing radiation wound spent several sessions in the hyperbaric chamber. I’d never heard of hyperbaric treatment for a broken bone, so looked up approved uses of hyperbaric oxygen.

First, if you go for hyperbaric care, you are breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. You’ve probably heard that the hyperbolic chamber is a well-recognized treatment for scuba divers who come out of the water too fast and suffer from “the bends.” Johns Hopkins lists other approved uses as:

Firefighter’s and miner’s carbon monoxide poisoning

Cyanide poisoning

Crush injuries

Gas gangrene (a form of gangrene in which gas collects in tissues)

Acute or traumatic inadequate blood flow in the arteries

Compromised skin grafts and flaps

Infection in a bone (osteomyelitis)

Delayed radiation injury healing

Flesh-eating disease (also called necrotizing soft tissue infection)

Air or gas bubble trapped in a blood vessel (air or gas embolism)

Chronic infection called actinomycosis

Diabetic wounds, nonhealing.

Here’s how hyperbaric treatments work. All our body’s tissues need adequate oxygen to function, but when tissue is injured, extra oxygen helps cells regenerate and synthesize protein. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen your blood delivers. An increase in blood oxygen temporarily restores normal levels of blood gases and tissue function — promoting healing and fighting infection.

However, beware advertisements for hyperbaric treatment which profess help for AIDS/HIV, allergy, dementia, arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, ulcers, heart disease, heat stroke, migraines, MS, Parkinson’s, stroke and other problems. All these claims are unproven.

And, as with all treatments, side effects occasionally occur. Lens change of the eye can cause temporary nearsightedness. Increased air pressure can rupture an eardrum. Air pressure changes can cause a collapsed lung. Too much oxygen to the central nervous system can result in seizures. Pure oxygen ignites. To prevent fire, you must not use petroleum based skin or hair products, nor enter the chamber with a battery powered device.

Rick’s broken femur? Hyperbaric treatment for sports injuries and lower limb breaks has not yet shown enhanced healing, but investigations continue. I hope it helps Rick.

Carrie Luger Slayback is an award winning teacher and champion marathoner who writes about fitness and health from a well-researched, personal perspective.

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